Entrepreneurs are essential to society. They contribute to its betterment by trailblazing new paths that provide innovative solutions to practical, financial, and social issues. I experienced this firsthand when I was growing up in Kenya. My parents are entrepreneurs and always encouraged us to carve out a meaningful career trajectory, leave a positive footprint, and carry on an impactful legacy. That’s why, despite first pursuing a law career and later earning a master’s in business administration, I felt I could do more for my community by becoming an entrepreneur.

Malnutrition in Kenya remains unacceptably high; 11 percent of children in Kenya are underweight, with 4 percent too thin for their height, while agriculture constitutes the main economic driver. According to the World Food Programme, inefficiencies in food systems lead to high prices and insufficient market supplies, limiting availability and access to food.

Why I Started Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited

A successful entrepreneurial endeavor is one in which a founder can solve a serious problem that affects livelihoods or businesses. This is precisely what I am doing in Kenya. I launched Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited in 2012, an agribusiness with a mission of making high-quality and nutritious food accessible to more people while elevating our communities and making the world a healthier place.

Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited aims to provide economic opportunity, break the cycle of poverty among smallholder farmers, and improve their incomes. By providing a marketplace for smallholder farmers in Kenya who need fair buyers for their produce, my company enables farmers to earn a stable income on their products while positively impacting surrounding communities.

Stawi field staff comparing different nutritious cereals for processing
Stawi field staff compares different nutritious cereals for processing.

Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited is also working to address hidden hunger among children. Using hydrothermal processing technology, traditional foods can be naturally enriched with iron, zinc, and other essential minerals at a low cost and then used to process nutritious, appealing, and affordable feeding products for babies between six and 23 months old.

Additionally, my goal is to empower women and youth by creating employment opportunities and providing affordable nutrition sources for families. Tapping into women’s potential and empowering them with education, resources, and freedom of action is crucial to ending hunger.

Stawi training rural women on nutrition
Stawi training rural women on nutrition

Building a Sustainable Supply Chain That Puts Farmers First

Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited uses food as a force for good in the world – putting humanity first in everything we do. In 10 years, our goal is to feed 1 million children every single day. We plan to distribute our products across Kenya and other African countries through a sustainable supply chain that puts farmers first and supports them with the technology required to grow food using fewer resources.

Our farmers benefit from a digitized supply chain where we equip collection centers with digital weight capture systems for the products they deliver from their farms. Not only does this mean faster payments to farmers, but they also have accurate digital records they can use to secure credit from microfinance institutions.

Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited is also launching a social commerce platform and parallel distribution channel connecting our brands with a network of individual distributors starting in Nairobi and spreading across all counties in Kenya. The longer-term goal is to use the platform to enable local production and provide emerging African brands with nationwide coverage through a network of individual distributors.

Ramping Up Public-Private Partnerships to Reduce Food Insecurity in Africa

In recent decades, development organizations have begun to move away from the traditional indirect, external, and top-down solutions. Instead of relying on outside-driven initiatives, the U.S. African Development Foundation’s (USADF) approach, for example, has always focused on locally driven and participatory African engagement. Working at the grassroots level is a game-changer for positive development efforts because, without a local understanding of our needs, culture, and context, development cannot be sustainable. As the founder of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited and a Kenyan myself, I have deep operating experience in local ecosystems and long-term incentives to drive successful and sustainable growth in Kenya and Africa.

As a U.S. federal agency, USADF leverages resources from its strategic corporate and African government partnerships and collaborates with the private sector to utilize additional capital and networks for a mutually beneficial partnership that allows for a more significant overall impact.

Eric Muthomi USADF Herbalife

Partnering with Herbalife Nutrition through its Nutrition for Zero Hunger (NFZH) initiative, USADF supports African social entrepreneurs through the Food and Nutrition Stars (African FANS) Program. With support from NFZH, I was awarded a grant along with four other African social entrepreneurs. The African FANS program grant supports Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited to increase nutrition education and business skills in women and youth in Kenya. This funding will contribute to our mission and vision of becoming a leading provider of nutritious foods in Kenya and other African countries and a meaningful direct and indirect employer.

The Future of Sustainable Food Systems in Africa

Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 with expanded access to capital and electricity, better technology, and irrigated land to grow high-value, nutritious foods. I believe that by capturing this trillion-dollar food market, Africa will be able to feed itself and the rest of the world.

Leading the way into uncharted paths is a fruitful endeavor that comes with its own set of challenges. I struggled to gain funding and attract investment into my business but was fortunate, after many pitches, to convince investors to fund the company. I have been lucky to receive funding from USADF and Herbalife Nutrition, which has helped take my business to the next level.

Thus far, the African FANS grant has helped Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited better understand the needs of resellers (micro distributors) we plan to work with to buy and sell products on a business-to-business platform. These needs include:

This information will help develop a robust business-to-business online platform, which will be responsive to the needs of women and youth in Kenya.

Through this funding, Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited has distributed 9,000 servings of nutritious foods through 32 micro distributors, of which 80 percent are women, and 20 percent are youth. In the past year, our reach of smallholder farmers has increased to 4,000 newly registered farmers who will benefit from market access, nutrition training, and climate-smart technology.

I encourage other social impact entrepreneurs to clearly understand the problem they are solving before coming up with a solution. Young African entrepreneurs with limited entrepreneurial training can take advantage of programs like the U.S. government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)  and Academy for Women Entrepreneurs programs and free resources available on the Internet. It is much easier to start a business today than a decade ago.

I encourage you to learn more about Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited and help us spread the word to expand our global community.